LOS ANGELES – California Democrats intend to use the candidacy of Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante (search) to mobilize Hispanic voters in a double-barreled strategy to either save Davis or make sure the governor's office remains in Democratic hands, Democrats and party strategists tell Fox News.
A top Washington-based Democratic strategist told Fox News that California's two Democratic senators — Dianne Feinstein (search) and Barbara Boxer (search) — will back Bustamante and that one of the state's most powerful legislators — Sen. John Burton — will also rally as many state legislators as possible to support Bustamante's campaign.
Two Democratic members of Congress also told Fox they expect House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (search) of California to organize the state's Democratic congressional delegation on Bustamante's behalf.
This strategy was given an enormous boost late Saturday when Democrat Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi (search) dropped out of the race to replace Davis. His move leaves Bustamante as the only serious Democrat in the race against Republicans Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bill Simon, State Sen. Bill McClintock and a cast of dozens running as independents or on other party lines.
The Democratic strategy is two-fold and not as anti-Davis as might first appear.
Democrats will argue against the recall because they still believe Davis has a fighting chance to survive. But by rallying around Bustamante with money and foot soldiers in key urban voting areas such as Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland, Democrats hope to energize Hispanics to vote against the recall but for Bustamante.
Under this strategy, even if the recall succeeds and Davis is out, a heavy Hispanic turnout coupled with traditional white and black Democratic turnout could, Democrats hope, give Bustamante enough votes to defeat a divided GOP field.
"You can never count Gray out," a Democratic member of Congress in California told Fox News during the congressional recess. "But we have to have a backup plan. I think we will rally around Cruz and say if the governor is recalled, we as a party are simply following the constitutional path of succession."
The "path of succession" argument is likely to be a key Democratic talking point, lawmakers and strategists told Fox. Under California's constitution, Bustamante is next in line to succeed Davis.
Key Democrats tell Fox they will argue they oppose the recall as a partisan power-grab. But, they say, if the recall succeeds they will say the Democratic Party is simply being loyal to the state constitution and the voters by elevating the office-holder in line to succeed Davis.
This process, Democrats will argue, is more rational and faithful to orderly government than recalling the governor and replacing him with a candidate from another party. Bustamante, Democrats will argue, can step into the governor's office more smoothly than any Republican because he would need much less time to build a transition team and fill top appointed positions.
For now, Democrats see this as a good strategy against Schwarzenegger, whom they will attempt to portray as an amateur who will be hard-pressed to handle the rigors of governing California.
But Democratic lawmakers and strategists also say this strategy is of little value unless Democrats can punch through the media frenzy currently surrounding the Schwarzenegger campaign.
"We're behind," a Democratic congressman told Fox. "We needed this strategy a week ago. We've got to get moving and get this message out."
Democrats backing Bustamante expect Davis to wage a ferocious campaign to save his job. They say the Bustamante bid is the best fallback to energize Democratic voters perplexed and demoralized by the fact that Davis was unable to stop the recall.
Fox News' Major Garrett contributed to this report.